Cloth vs. disposable diaper costs using real data

A lot of people claim you’ll save thousands by going for cloth diapers, but they’re usually quite biased. When our daughter Zoe was born, we decided to try cloth diapers and while we haven’t regretted that decision, there have been a couple of bumps along the road so far.

As promised earlier, let’s start by taking a look at cost. After six months in the trenches, so to speak, we have enough real data to tackle the question: are cloth diapers actually less expensive than disposables? In short, the answer is yes. Even taking laundry into account. For a more quantitative analysis, read on.

We decided to go with cloth diapers from Bummis, a Montreal-based company. They have a great diaper kit that comes with everything you need to get started (and then some). We picked one up for $175 at Pinky Blue in Richmond. For wipes, we just use baby washcloths, which set us back another $12.
Bummis cloth diaper kit

Disposable diaper prices are all over the place (and increase with diaper size), but a good price is about $0.20 per diaper. That’s what you pay for big cases at Costco, for example. You can find them for cheaper — down into the $0.15 range — but let’s stick with regularly priced items as we did for cloth.

The number of diapers per day varies a lot depending on the baby (age, among other things) but let’s be conservative and say you’ll use, on average, 10 diapers per day. At $0.20 each, that’s $2 per day, or about $60 per month.

For wipes, let’s again be conservative and say you use one each change, so 300 per month. Costco sells big boxes of 900 for $19 each, which adds up to $38 over 6 months.

So far we have 6 months of diapers costing $187 with cloth versus $398 with disposables. But what about all the extra laundry that comes with using cloth diapers?

We often hang our clothes to dry, but let’s instead assume we always use the dryer. Each load of laundry then requires about 3.5 kWh of electricity, and we do about 3 diaper loads per week, for a total of 42 kWh per month. Averaging out BC Hydro’s stepped rates, we pay about $0.08/kWh. So that’s a measly $3.36 extra per month for laundering cloth diapers. For detergent, we followed Hip Baby’s recommendation and use Hydrox. We’re about half way through a 4L jug that cost us $21.

So factoring in laundry bumps our cloth diaper costs up to $187 (diapers and wipes) + $10.50 (detergent) + $20.16 (laundry) = $217.66. In practice, due to traveling etc., we still use disposables occasionally. Even so, it’s still considerably cheaper than the $398 for going fully disposable. It’s also considerably cheaper than using a cloth diaper service like Happy Nappy or Diapers Naturally, which would end up costing about $480 (roughly $20 per week).

We’ve only been considering the first 6 months so far. Needless to say, the cost differential only widens as time goes on. And here’s the kicker: diapering the next baby will cost us basically nothing.

And, of course, there’s so much less going to the landfill. But even if you don’t care about that, cloth diapers make a whole lot of sense.

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4 thoughts on “Cloth vs. disposable diaper costs using real data

  1. Pingback: Are Cloth Diapers Cheaper Than Disposable? | Today's Family Budget

  2. Just discovered your very candid and helpful blog!

    The numbers change quite a bit at $1.25 a load (and $1.25 to dry) in my shared apartment machine. $2.50 x 3 loads x 4 weeks x 6 months is $180 over the six months. $187+$10+$180 = $377. Still cheaper than $398 – but less of a slam dunk, given the extra hassle. And with the higher marginal cost, the differential will widen more slowly.

    I think we’ll still do cloth though: same $ cost, better environmental result. (Ignoring water.)

    1. Wow, you’re right. In this scenario, shared coin-op laundry costs roughly 10x more than running the machine yourself ($30/month vs $3.36/month).

      But keep in mind this 6 month analysis isn’t the whole picture. We’re now at the 19 month mark and our costs haven’t increased all that much. We had to shell out another ~$130 for diapers at the next size up, but if we had gone disposable we’d have spent well over $1000 ($60/month x 19 months) by now.

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